20 October 2021

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Thanks, everyone.

**Guests Today

In a short while, we will have as guests, Caitlin Williscroft, a specialist who works for UN‑Women on the Women, Peace and Security Programme in the Afghanistan country office.  She will be joined by Naheed Fareed, a former Afghan Parliamentarian, as well as Mariam Safi, Executive Director of the Organization for Policy Research and Development Studies.  They will join us virtually to brief in the context of the anniversary of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) and the open debate tomorrow on women, peace and security.

**Production Gap Report

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) today released its Production Gap Report, which found that despite increased climate ambitions and net-zero commitments, Governments still plan to produce more than double the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than what would be consistent with limiting global warming to 1.5°C.  Over the next two decades, governments are collectively projecting an increase in global oil and gas production, and only a modest decrease in coal production.  The report also shows that countries have directed over $300 billion in new funds towards fossil fuel activities since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic — more than they have towards clean energy.  The Secretary-General said that the report shows there is still a long way to go to a clean energy future.  He added that it is urgent that all remaining public financiers, as well as private finance, including commercial banks and asset managers, switch their funding from coal to renewables to promote full decarbonization of the power sector and access to renewable energy for all.  You can find the full report online.

**Security Council

At a Security Council meeting on the situation in the Great Lakes region, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Huang Xia, said that the region is at a crossroads.  He reiterated that the main threat to peace and stability remains the persistence of armed groups.  But, Mr. Xia added, bilateral and regional initiatives attest to the awareness of the added value of dialogue and cooperation.  More than ever, he said, it is necessary to consolidate these gains.  Turning to COVID-19, he said the pandemic has exacerbated vulnerabilities, but also demonstrated the resilience of societies in the region.  He reiterated the Secretary-General’s call for greater solidarity to facilitate access to vaccines and to strengthen existing health systems and structures.  Martha Ama Akyaa Pobee, the Assistant Secretary-General for Africa in the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations, also spoke to Council members.  This afternoon, the Security Council will have a meeting on Somalia, followed by consultations on Lebanon.


And speaking of Somalia, our humanitarian colleagues say that climate shocks are worsening the situation in the country, which is bracing for a third consecutive below-average rainy season.  As a result, the November cereal harvest in the northwest of Somalia is projected to be 63 per cent below the average levels in the past decade.  More than 250,000 people are facing severe water shortages, half of them in Jubaland State.  There is also a reduction in pasture for livestock, affecting vulnerable people’s food security and nutrition.  Without humanitarian assistance, nearly 3.5 million people across Somalia will face crisis or worse levels of food insecurity by the end of the year.  Some 1.2 million children under the age of five are also likely to be acutely malnourished — of these, more than 213,000 are projected to be severely malnourished.  Water, food, and health assistance are the most urgent humanitarian needs, according to our partners on the ground.  Humanitarian organizations are trucking water, providing cash vouchers and delivering nutrition supplies to people in need.  They are, however, significantly constrained by the lowest funding levels in five years.  Somalia’s 2021 Humanitarian Response Plan is only 50 per cent funded.


On Ethiopia, our humanitarian colleagues are alarmed by the escalating conflict in the north, especially following reports of the impact on civilians, including after an airstrike in Mekelle, in Tigray, today.  Initial information from the ground indicates that civilians — including women and children — were injured.  We are trying to gather more information.  More than 5.2million people across Tigray — that’s more than 90 per cent of the region’s population — need life-saving assistance, including nearly 400,000 people facing famine-like conditions.  We repeat our call to all parties to the conflict to de-escalate across Tigray, Amhara and Afar to avoid further casualties and the suffering of civilians.  Humanitarian needs are also increasing in Amhara and Afar due to the spillover into these regions of the conflict in Tigray.  All parties to the conflict must always uphold international humanitarian law and ensure the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure.

Just an update on UN operations — some 30 per cent of all our staff in Ethiopia are in different regions of the country, including Tigray.  The UN and humanitarian partners are staying and delivering.  For safety measures, a small proportion of the UN team has been relocated — and that’s around 100 UN staff and 17 dependents.  We currently have nearly 400 staff in Tigray alone, committed to delivering life‑saving needs to the most vulnerable people.  Including national and international NGOs [non-governmental organizations], that number is nearly 2,000 people in the region.  Across the country, our team on the ground notes multiple safety issues that are sparking an increasing number of internally displaced people, who urgently need humanitarian assistance.


Turning to Syria, we are deeply concerned about ongoing and increasing hostilities in recent months in the northwest and the impact that this is having on civilians.  Yesterday, artillery shelling was reported in Idlib.  One civilian was killed, and four others injured.  Artillery shelling was also reported in other parts of Idlib and in Western Aleppo.  Today, several civilian casualties have been reported following artillery shelling in Ariha town, south of the city of Idlib.  The recent escalation is the most significant increase in hostilities in north-west Syria since the ceasefire agreement of March 2020.  The UN condemns all violence in Syria.  We remind all parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law, including the prohibition of indiscriminate attacks and the obligation to take all feasible precautions to avoid and minimize harm to civilians and civilian infrastructure.

**Cabo Verde/COVID-19

And I have a COVID-19 update for you, today from Cabo Verde, where the UN team, led by Resident Coordinator Ana Graça, continues to help authorities to address the health and socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic.  As of today, nearly 80 per cent of people over the age of 18 have received at least the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and nearly half of them have been fully vaccinated.  UN agencies have provided strategic support for the national vaccination campaign.  Cabo Verde has received more than 700,000 vaccine doses, both through COVAX and bilaterally, and this is enough to vaccinate nearly all eligible people.  The UN team is also supporting health facilities, helping students with distance learning and providing meals for children, among other assistance.

**Global Map of Salt-Affected Soils

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today launched the Global Map of Salt-Affected Soils, a key tool for halting salinization and boosting productivity.  FAO said that the map, a joint project involving 118 countries and hundreds of data-crunchers, will allow experts to identify where sustainable soil management practices should be adopted to prevent salinization and sodification and to manage salt-affected soils sustainably.  FAO noted that the map can inform policy makers when dealing with climate change adaptation and irrigation projects.

**Press Encounters

As for press encounters, beyond our guests and also Monica Grayley, who will be speaking to you after I am done, Ambassador Raychelle Awuor Omamo, Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kenya, will brief reporters at the Security Council Stakeout, following the Council’s meeting on the situation in the Great Lakes region.  Then this afternoon, at around 4 p.m., Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Representative of the United States of America, will brief reporters on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, also at the Security Council.  And finally, tomorrow our guest will be Christine Schraner Burgener, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Myanmar.  She will be here in this room to brief on the situation in Myanmar.  Yes.  Turning to questions, Michelle?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  Just wanted to follow up on what you were saying on Ethiopia.  Just to clarify, you were talking about the air strike today and that the initial information from UN people on the ground.  Can you just clarify what and how many people you think might be injured?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, like I said, we don't have… at this point, we don't have the casualty figures, but the initial information indicates that some civilians, including women and children, were injured.  We don't have numbers, but we're trying to get more information on that.

Question:  And what's the Secretary‑General's reaction to this?  Has he spoken with the Prime Minister?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, he's made clear his concerns, including in recent days, and those concerns continue.  He hasn't spoken to him, to the Prime Minister today, but we have made clear what our concerns are about the impact of these operations on civilians and the need to avoid any offensive activities that can target civilians or civilian infrastructure.  Yes, Edie?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Two questions.  First, does the Secretary‑General have any comment on the bombings in Syria today?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  What I can say about that is, of course, first of all, we've been deeply concerned about the ongoing and increasing hostilities throughout the country and the impact that that's been having on civilians.  I just mentioned our concerns about the artillery shelling that happened in… south of the city of Idlib, but, separately, we are also following with concern reports of a military bus coming under attack in Damascus earlier this morning in an attack that killed scores of people.  The UN strongly condemns all violence in Syria, and as always, we urge all parties and those with influence over them to ensure the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure at all times.  And that includes schools, markets and health facilities.

Question:  My… thank you.  My second question is about talks being hosted by Russia between representatives of the Taliban and neighbouring countries today.  Is the UN involved in any way in observing, monitoring those talks?

Deputy Spokesman:  We've not been involved in this latest round of talks, but we'll be in touch with the various partners who have been working to get the talks going and see what information we can get.  But, at this stage, what we're encouraging is to see whether there can be more of an effort by countries, both in the region, and more generally, throughout, to work to ensure that the situation in Afghanistan remains peaceful and the basic rights of all Afghans are upheld.  Yes?

Question:  Yes, Farhan.  Just back to Ethiopia, you are using the word "air strike" today rather than "reported air strike", so that, I suspect, with today's event, you're confirming it's an air strike.  Can you also confirm that the two previous air strikes… this… reported air strikes from the… the UN believes the damage there is consistent with an air strike?  And given these three air strikes in the last few days on Mekelle, in terms of what is being hit by these air strikes, do you in any way see that these could be deemed legitimate military targets?

Deputy Spokesman:  It's not for me to determine whether something is a legitimate military target.  We, from our standpoint, have raised concerns about any attacks that disproportionately harm civilians.  And beyond that, of course, we would need to gain further information about why the targets were chosen the way they were.  I believe, in the earlier cases, there have even been an admission from the relevant authorities that they were air strikes, so I have nothing further to say on it than that.

Question:  And just going back to… it's now nearly two weeks since the Secretary‑General was in the Security Council on this issue and pushed very hard the Ethiopian Permanent Representative.  Have you had any further contact from the Ethiopians to justify the expulsion of the UN officials?

Deputy Spokesman:  We have no formal communication that would provide the sort of reasoning.  That… in other words, the information that the Secretary‑General has asked for, we have not received, no.  Yes, Alan and then Carla.  Alan first.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Regarding the question of the meeting on Afghanistan in Moscow, so‑called Moscow Format, the participants of this meeting called for donor… conducting… convening a donor conference by the UN to help the… Afghanistan to recover from this crisis.  Any comments on this proposal of the participants of the Moscow Format meeting?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, certainly, the United Nations is always willing to do what it can to raise funds for the support of the people of Afghanistan.  I don't have any announcement to make at this point about a donor conference, but we're aware of the calls, and we'll see what can be arranged.  Yes, in the back.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  You mentioned that the US Ambassador will be briefing on the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] at the Security Council, or did you mean at the Security Council stakeout, or would it be in this room?

Deputy Spokesman:  At the… I said at the Security Council stakeout, so that's where she'll be.  And if there's nothing further, then I'm going to turn the floor over to our guests, who I think are on screen.

For information media. Not an official record.